I cannot use the phrase "to lose one’s virginity." It implies that I’ll find it again. Perhaps down the back of a sofa, between an old hairbrush and some loose change. There it will be: my hymen. Hello, old friend.
Or as it was rebranded the other year: "vaginal corona."
This new name failed to catch on, and it has resigned itself to being the vaginal Google Wave of our time, but no harm is done. What you call your hymen is of little significance. However, the Swedish scientists who coined the phrase believe the research behind it can help us challenge any notion that one can "test for virginity," an ordeal still forced upon women around the world.
Closer to home, they want people to view the hymen as a permanent feature and start seeing pain as unfortunate but not inevitable. Which is why I think the corona is worth a revisit.
As with most things, I learnt about the vaginal corona from the Internet. Namely Scarleteen.com, which is a friendly sexual education resource. It has something to interest everyone, from the informed sexologist to the younger person who still thinks that women poop out babies.
Every magazine I read as a teen told me that the hymen was made to break. There was also a mysterious caveat on the dangers of horse riding. (?) Bleeding was "expected" and "normal" and the hymen’s appearance was considered in terms of "before and after."
Turns out you’ve got a better chance of figuring out if someone’s had sex or not by looking at their knees.
Speaking for myself, I think my clothes tell the story.
2003. Not getting any action. Wearing clothes made from Bagpuss.
2012 in SAY Media Offices UK. Smug with sexual action. Wearing clothes made of stubborn orphans' tears.
Let us never speak of that pink cardigan again.
The RFSU (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, which I picture being led by the Swedish Chef from The Muppets) produced a booklet on the matter. The front cover includes the obligatory rose petals that illustrate so many investigations into indelicate lady business.
They Can Break Our Hearts But They Can Never Break Our Hymens
The part of the Scandi’s press release that gripped me is that we cannot lose our virginities, in a physical sense. Just as one doesn’t lose a leg after that first marathon.
The vaginal corona is a permanent part of a woman’s body throughout her life. It doesn’t disappear after she first has sexual intercourse, and most women don’t bleed the first time.
This is why I arch my eyebrows at any surgeon who offers "hymenal reconstruction." There is no membrane to repair, simply folds of soft tissue that "crown" the vagina. Applying stitches would be like sewing Jello together.
The booklet covers every myth associated with hymens. Particularly this "breaking" business. Minor ruptures to the membrane can occur at any point in one’s sex life, but they heal quickly, like the skin on your ear. This particular study indicates that minority of women who report bleeding during sex may be contesting with other variables.
The study emphasises what a subjective experience sex will be for a person and that the variables to consider reach further than a legacy of myths suggesting some women have an iron clad vagina in need of a battering ram. A tiny pecent may have an imperforate hymen that requires medical attention, an issue Carrie wrote upon beautifully here.
Enter The Confused Teen
For girls in my school, the most important part of that special first time was being able to relay every detail to one’s Girl Tribe© the following day. The storyteller always faced the same question: Did anything pop? How much blood? Does Matthew Betteridge really have a third nipple?
If the girl had been tense and lacking interest, the answer was usually blood everywhere, but the most common answer was “none” and then a worried expression. And a growing sense that a Super Plus Tampon had a lot to answer for.
Believing that bleeding and pain was to be expected meant that many of us thought there was something wrong about having a pleasurable and painless experience. Had the horse riding scuppered us after all?
The worst stories were from the young women who didn’t want to ask their boyfriend to stop because, hey, how do you break something properly without pain?
Other girls had partners who looked at the clean sheets and said “Hey! You said you were a virgin!”
This is why I would like hymeneal mythbusting to spill over from the usual confines of any sex positive topic -- the Internet -- and into the real life dialogues that cover these issues.
And that’s a job I want to leave to the health professionals. At this end of things, I have a few ideas that I would like to throw into the conversation but first, there are reasons why you should be wary of taking my advice:
Why You’re Better Off Seeking Health Advice From Cat Marnell Than Sarah Woolley
1) If you had asked my school’s Sex Ed teacher “What’s a vulva?” she would have pointed to her car.
2) Until an alarmingly late age, I did not know about erections and I assumed that coitus occurred after the man had succeeded in stuffing his limp member away, like a magician vanishing a string of hankies into his fist.
3) I may have been dumped by a young man so that he can spend more time canoeing. I think he gave other reasons but I wasn’t listening. I’ve simply concluded that he prefers going up rivers and mountains to going up vaginas.
So, if you still wish to listen to a 24-year-old who has read more articles on sex education than she has had actual partners, here is my advice for early sexual encounters that I believe is more productive than telling people their hymen could ricochet around the room at a slight prod.
Let’s Stop Seeing Blood As a Rite of Passage. If we started bleeding during a meal or physical exercise, we would stop. Let’s start informing our young people that blood, at best, is a sign to lube up or try again another time and put Eastenders back on.
Don’t Lose Your Virginity to Someone You Love. Disastrous. It’s enough to be dealing with the cognitive dissonance that comes from having preconceived notions of sex shattered. Shag a happy friend instead. The one who makes you laugh and won’t go pale if your vagina accidentally gobbles up the condom.
Ironically, this person is likely to be the one that you are in love with but most of us are too young to see this. Either way, you can have sex without love but you cannot have sex without soul.
And lastly... Um...
Lose Your Virginity to a Boy with a Really Small Willy. No matter how aroused, few women want a challenge the first time. An alarming visual can make the hardiest of us tense up. So, if his manhood looks like a baby mouse weeping, you’ve found your man.
To prove that I’m not being heteronormative, I extend this advice to anyone using strap-ons. Shop around for small dick instead of diving straight for the Juggercock 3000.
Oh and first-time missionary is for Twihards and fans of Cruel Intentions.
What was your experience of learning about the hymen from schools and magazines? Do you have advice to give that is more dubious than my shady input?